UPDATE: CECI contract reinstated
The Children’s Education Center of the Islands was notified on Feb. 21 that the Florida Department of Children and Families has reinstated its contract, enabling it to reopen. Board President Nita Stewart reported that the CECI is interviewing applicants to fill one more teaching position before it reopens to its student population. New Executive Director Kerra Pike will be serving as an interim teacher, and another teacher – who worked at the preschool before its recent closure – is returning on March 30.
“We’re delighted, we’re thrilled,” Stewart said today. “We cannot wait to serve our families.”
Following a recent incident in which one of its teachers wrote on the stomach of a child, an island preschool has a new executive director and is working toward reopening its doors for families.
The Children’s Education Center of the Islands on Sanibel made headlines after mother Heather Chisum posted on Facebook on Jan. 27 that she had picked her children up from the daycare, only to later discover that somebody had written a message in marker on the belly of her 1-year-old son.
“Everyday when I pick Fin and Milo up from daycare they put a daily report paper in Milos lunch box. It says what mood he was in for the day, what times they changed his diapers, and if he needs diapers or wipes,” Chisum wrote. “I guess yesterday they wrote on his report that he needs diapers, and I failed to see that.”
She added that the preschool could have said something to her.
“But instead, I change his diaper this afternoon AND SEE THIS WRITTEN ON MY SON WITH MARKER,” Chisum continued in her post. “It says, ‘Mom I’m out of diapers pls read my report.'”
CECI Board President Nita Stewart reported that the responsible employee was fired.
“The one teacher has been let go. The board stepped in and took care of it right away,” she said on Feb. 21. “The main thing for the community and the parents was trying to move on.”
But moving on has been a challenge. Following the one teacher’s termination, the preschool’s remaining two teachers resigned on Jan. 31. Stewart explained that now-former Executive Director Cindy Carter DeCosta thought on it over the weekend and submitted her resignation on Feb. 3.
“She decided it was in the best interest of the school to resign,” she said.
“Cindy was really gracious,” Stewart added.
The preschool tapped Assistant Executive Director Kerra Pike to fill the vacancy.
“Kerra agreed to take the job,” she said, adding that DeCosta has made herself available throughout the transition process as a resource. “She has been wonderful, answering any questions that Kerra has.”
“She basically agreed to help through the end of February,” Stewart added.
However, DeCosta’s leaving created a new issue. The preschool had been contracted with the Florida Department of Children and Families through her, so DeCosta’s resignation essentially invalidated the contract. The preschool is working on having the contact reassigned to Pike as the new director.
“That’s really the big piece for us,” she said. “As soon as they say, yes we can do it, we’re going to open as soon as possible.”
The facility is not in operation as a preschool as it undergoes the transition.
“We’re trying to just clean up the school and make it a positive,” Stewart said, adding that it has been maintaining an open line of communication with its students’ families and is working with them.
“As a community of parents, we are trying to support each other,” she said.
Stewart noted that Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ has stepped up to help.
“The congregation has taken some of the kids in,” she said, explaining that the families need daycare. “And the community has been absolutely incredible. The amount of outreach that we’ve received.”
Enrollment at the preschool was in the “upper teens” before it closed.
“A lot of them are coming back. I would say the vast majority,” Stewart said. “Most of them are excited because Kerra has a calling they love her, the kids love her.”
As for the Chisum family, she explained that she sat down with Heather Chisum and another family member after the incident came to light. Stewart said she has tried to maintain contact, but the last she heard was the family was considering moving off the island because it needed daycare immediately.
“They know they’re welcome back,” she said of re-enrolling.
Another hurdle the preschool is facing is filling the vacated staff positions.
“We have one teacher committed who can come back,” Stewart said.
Job postings have been placed and the preschool is interviewing applicants.
“Anybody interested in teaching at the school, we’re looking,” she said. “We can open with three (teachers). That’s ideal because Kerra will also teach as we get everything sorted out.”
In the meantime, the facility is staying focused on the future.
“We’re going to reopen and be better than ever,” Stewart said. “We want and need to be here to support the families on the islands.”
Interested job applicants can contact Kerra Pike at 239-472-4538 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Children’s Education Center of the Islands is at 350 Casa Ybel Road, Sanibel.